Not many people know this but…

abstract oil painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn based on Newgrange solstice

So the Winter Solstice has come and gone.  Some people go to Newgrange to witness the sunrise on that special day but we like to mark the occasion with a visit to Knockroe Passage Grave, in Co. Kilkenny.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Newgrange in Co. Meath.  Constructed over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) in a place called Brú na Bóinne, it is an ancient place of archaeological, spiritual or ceremonial importance.  We really don’t know what went on there in the distant past but we know that this ancient mound was constructed in such a way that on the morning of the Winter Solstice, if the sky is clear, the first rays of the sun shine directly into its inner chamber, down through a 19 metre long passage, illuminating the megalithic stone carvings inside for a few magical moments.  It must have served as a powerful symbol of new life, new beginnings, the victory of life over death, the ceremonial union of Heaven and earth…

But not many people know about Knockroe.  Overlooking a bend in the River Linguan on the border between Leinster and Munster, it’s just as old as Newgrange, older than the Pyramids, older than Stonehenge… and Knockroe has two passages.  Yes, one passage is aligned with the sunrise and the other is aligned with the sunset!

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Knockroe at the Winter Solstice, Kilkenny

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Knockroe at the winter solstice

It was a particularly special occasion this year.  Notice my two photos above, the first from this year and the second from two years ago.  We were blessed with the good weather this year.

And the Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan TD spoke at the event. He praised the wonderful voluntary effort of the local community who had gone to great lengths to prepare the site and to ensure the safety and comfort of visitors who had come from near and far.

Dr Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, Professor Emeritus of UCD Archaeology spoke about the significance of the ancient site.  Slievenamon mountain was marked in megalithic times by the building of a huge cairn on its summit.  The River Lingaun which flows past Knockroe springs from the slopes of Slievenamon and Dr Ó Súilleabháin believes that this was important to the people who built the passage grave, as it carried water from such a sacred source.

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Malcolm Noonan TD at Knockroe Winter Solstice
Minister Malcolm Noonan TD speaking before sunset at Knockroe, Co. Kilkenny

It would be remiss of me not to mention the coven of witches who also attended the event.  As we stood and watched in silent awe as the last rays of sunlight illuminated the carved decorations in the (roofless) inner chamber, these gentle ladies burst into spontaneous dancing and their terpsichorean enthusiasm lifted our spirits even further.  It was as if we were transported into another world, carried on the wings of swans across vast planes and rolling hills until… one of their mobile phones rang.  Yes – it seems that even witches carry mobile phones these days!

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of winter solstice at Knockroe, Co. Kilkenny
A couple of witches record the winter solstice sun, setting at Knockroe

They returned to Cork and we returned to Dublin.  Unfortunately, the knowledge and experience of those who constructed this ancient monument is lost in the mists of time but we do know that, from now on, the days will grow longer, there will be a new year soon and the cycle of life will continue…

I did a series of abstract paintings based around Newgrange and the Winter Solstice some years ago.  I was very interested in the emotional impact of colour at the time (I still am, actually – although my work has became more figurative these days).  You have to follow your muse, I suppose, but I sometimes yearn for the purity of those abstract works, like the one seen at the top of this page from 2006.

All the best for now and a Happy New Year to you.



  1. An-mhaith, an-spéisiúl! Ceist amháin: At Knockroe, you see the winter solstice sunset align with the gap through the standing stones. But when does the alignment occur with the sunrise? If you don’t know, don’t worry, I’m sure I can find out somewhere. The photos you took on the day are really great – Malcolm looks very green alright – and your painting at the top is rivetting and thought-provoking.


Leave a Reply, I'd like to hear your viewpoint.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s